As someone who is preparing for ministry in the Church, I'm well aware of the challenges that await me. It grieves me to see that the political discourse within the Church has come to resemble, more and more, the type of polarized discourse that exists in American politics. As I consider my future ordination, the last thing I want is to become a hand grenade in the hand of a faction fighting a civil war. I'm convinced that what we need, first and foremost, are not leaders who land on the right side of the issue at hand (which is always our side, obviously), but leaders who challenge us to embody a different type of politics in the Church.
This brings me to Rowan Williams. As the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion, he's tried to keep churches together that have been ravaged over the issues of homosexuality and women's ordination. I'd like to share an excerpt from the sermon he delivered at his enthronement as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. Although it was delivered in 2003, I believe it has become only more relevant, for all of us:
But it's still pretty frightening. Once we recognise God's great secret, that we are all made to be God's sons and daughters, we can't avoid the call to see one another differently. No-one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We can't assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us; those who so often don't count in the world's terms (the old, the unborn, the disabled). And this is what unsettles our loyalties, conservative or liberal, right wing or left, national and international. We have to learn to be human alongside all sorts of others, the ones whose company we don't greatly like, the ones we didn't choose, because Jesus is drawing us together into his place, into his company.So an authentic church has a difficult job. On the one hand, it must be constantly learning from the Bible and its shared life of prayer how to live with Jesus and his Father; its life makes no sense unless we believe that the secret Jesus reveals to those hungry for life is the very bedrock of truth. The Church can't believe and say whatever it likes, for the very sound reason that it is a community of people who have been changed because and only because of Jesus Christ. I am a Christian because of the change made to me by Jesus Christ, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which gives me the right to call God 'Abba Father; what other reason is there?But there is a further dimension. Living in Jesus's company, I have to live in a community that is more than just the gathering of those who happen to agree with me, because I need also to be surprised and challenged by the Jesus each of you will have experienced. As long as we can still identify the same Jesus in each other's life, we have something to share and to learn. Does there come a point where we can't recognise the same Jesus, the same secret? The Anglican Church is often accused of having no way of answering this. But I don't believe it; we read the same Bible and practise the same sacraments and say the same creeds. But I do believe that we have the very best of reasons for hesitating to identify such a point too quickly or easily – because we believe in a Jesus who is truly Lord and God, not the prisoner of my current thoughts or experiences.It is this that gives us the freedom and the obligation to challenge what our various cultures may say about humanity. If all we have to offer is a Jesus who makes sense to me and people like me, we have no saving truth to give.